As Iran Warns, US Officials Mum on Launch of Cyber Attack

Vice President of the United States Mike Pence gives a speech during an official visit May 16, 2019, at Fort McCoy, Wis. (U.S. Army photo/Greg Mason)
Vice President of the United States Mike Pence gives a speech during an official visit May 16, 2019, at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. (U.S. Army photo/Greg Mason)

Vice President Mike Pence and the Pentagon wouldn't say Sunday whether the U.S. had launched cyber attacks aimed at disrupting Iran's air and missile defenses as air strikes in retaliation for the shootdown of an RQ-4 Global Hawk drone were being called off.

"I never comment on covert operations," Pence said on CBS' "Face the Nation" program in response to reports from the Associated Press and other news outlets, citing anonymous officials, that the cyber attacks coordinated with U.S. Central Command targeted the control systems of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The Pentagon also declined to confirm the reports.

"As a matter of policy and for operational security, we do not discuss cyberspace operations, intelligence or planning," spokeswoman Heather Babb said in a statement.

Several Iranian officials, in statements to Iranian news outlets, warned again Sunday that Iran was prepared to mount a deadly response to the U.S. military, but made no mention of a cyber attack.

However, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stated on Twitter that "the U.S. has conducted covert action against us & now encroaches on our territory" by allegedly flying into Iranian airspace.

On "Face The Nation," and on CNN's "State Of The Union," Pence also sought to clarify Trump's initial tweets June 21. Trump tweeted that he called off the air strikes the evening of June 20 with only 10 minutes to spare when he learned from military officials that about 150 Iranians might be killed.

Pence said that U.S. military officials gave varying casualty assessments during the course of the day, but included "more specifics" as the time came for Trump to make a decision.

In a tweet Sunday, Trump said "I never called the strike against Iran "BACK," as people are incorrectly reporting, I just stopped it from going forward at this time!"

As the immediate crisis appeared to be receding, and Pence said the U.S. was prepared to hold talks with Iran without "preconditions," a senior Iranian military commander warned that U.S. troops would be killed if Iran is provoked.

"The US government should act responsibly and avoid wrong behavior in the region to protect the U.S. forces' lives and avoid endangering them," Maj. Gen. Gholam Ali Rashid said in remarks Sunday to the IRGC in Tehran, Iran's Fars news agency reported.

Iran's Tasnim news agency reported June 21 that the IRGC claimed to have shot down the Global Hawk with a Sayyad 2 missile, one of a vast array of anti-ship, and anti-air weapons available to Iran's military, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

According to a CRS report to Congress last month, Iran has a total of about 700,000 military and security personnel, including 350,000 in the regular army and another 125,000 in the IRGC ground force.

The regular Iranian navy has about 18,000 personnel and the IRGC navy about 20,000, according to CRS. The Iranian regular air force has about 30,000 personnel and IRGC air force was of unknown size, CRS said.

The Iranian navy has more than 100 ships and fast patrol boats, including four corvettes and about 10 Houdong missile patrol boats bought from China, CRS said. In addition, Iranian naval forces include three Kilo-class submarines and about 14 midget subs designed by North Korea, the report said.

Iran has a total of about 330 combat helicopters and aircraft, including 25 MiG-29s and 30 Su-24s, but is still dependent on aging U.S.-made F-4s, and F-5s, CRS said.

The Sayyad 2 missile, believed to have been used by Iran in the shootdown of the Global Hawk, is a two-stage, solid-fueled, domestically produced surface-to-air weapon that Iranian officials publicly displayed in 2011 and said had been deployed across Iran in air defense units.

Iran also has more than 150 Shahin missiles, Iranian versions of the U.S.-made MIM-23 Hawk surface-to-air missile, according to CRS. Iran also has several batteries of Russian made S-300 anti-air missiles and has been negotiating to buy the more advanced S-400 series, CRS said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.

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